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What's exceptional about this powerful French drama isn't the unusually good acting, though the fact that most of the cast is made up of non-professionals makes their performances pretty impressive. What really sets Laurent Cantet's film apart is the straightforward manner in which it dares to look the good old class struggle in the eye, without flinching...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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What's exceptional about this powerful French drama isn't the unusually good acting, though the fact that most of the cast is made up of non-professionals makes their performances pretty impressive. What really sets Laurent Cantet's film apart is the

straightforward manner in which it dares to look the good old class struggle in the eye, without flinching once. Returning home for summer break, Frank (Jalil Lespert) takes an internship at the same factory where his father Jean-Claude (Jean-Claude Vallod) has worked for the past 30 years. But

while Jean-Claude dons the factory's regulation blue coveralls, his son comes to work in a suit — he's a management trainee. On his first day, Frank is thrown into a raging dispute over the implementation of a 35-hour work week. The company's chief executive, M. Rouet (Lucien Longueville), is

concerned about profits, while labor-union rep Mrs. Arnoux (Danielle Melador) worries about workers' perks and has stymied negotiations. Frank suggests a solution: Why not circumvent the unions entirely? He draws up a referendum in the form of a questionnaire; over the protests of Mrs. Arnoux,

each worker is urged to fill it out and Frank becomes management's new golden boy. But the questionnaire Frank naively thought would help people like his father turns out to be a trap, and the film culminates in a company-wide labor dispute, with father and son on opposite sides. It's not what you

think, though; Cantet defies all expectations, and the position Frank finds himself at the end of the film is as surprising as it is heartbreaking. What could easily have been a dry, didactic film is granted unusual power by Cantet's cast, all of whom seem to innately understand the personal

nature of Cantet's subject. As well they should: With the exception of Lespert, most where selected from unemployment lines in the region where the film was shot.

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